Fall Convocation Address on the Core Value of Respect

Sep 19, 2013

Greetings…I want to express my deepest gratitude to our honored guest, Colonel Lorraine Rupp Breen, and recognize her once more for her service to our country and for living the mission of Marywood University. We thank her for being with us today and for continuing to be an outstanding role model for all of us. Let’s show her our appreciation with another round of applause.

At Marywood University, our core value of respect for each person is at the foundation of all we do—every action, interaction, and relationship. As educators and as people of God, we are called to speak for those whose voices are silenced—by oppression, ignorance, or circumstance; to be a voice for those who cannot speak at all. The value of respect magnifies the power of relationship; it is not an arbitrary privilege we extend only to some.

When we honor the uniqueness and dignity of each human person, through ethical and just interactions, we can influence the minds and hearts of those around us to aspire to greater things. It is a gift in itself to serve as a catalyst to greatness in others.

Recently I have spent time reflecting on the incredible strength and integrity of an extraordinary Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai.  This past summer, on her 16th birthday, after a lengthy recovery from a gunshot wound to the head, Malala delivered her first public speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly.

During the address, she wore a shawl once owned by Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first female leader of a Muslim nation, who was assassinated in 2007.  Speaking to world leaders and communities around the globe about the importance of peace and education for all, especially women and children, Malala observed:  “We realize the importance of light when we see darkness.  We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced… We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

We are fortunate here at Marywood; our campus is a haven of opportunity for all who wish to seek their full potential—we hold no one back from succeeding.  However, as global citizens, we need to be aware that the opportunities and rights we claim are not enjoyed by all. Malala’s example is one to which we aspire, not because we have personally lived her powerful experience, but because, through it, we can be powerfully transformed—in our thinking, in our words, in our awareness, and in our actions.

We were never meant to live in isolation. We are sacred and we are social. We are intrinsically designed to live responsibly in an interdependent world; that is why this purpose is a central part of Marywood’s mission. Our mission and our values are rooted in the dignity of the human person. Through the value of respect, we honor, protect, and uplift human dignity, human rights, and the sacredness of all God’s creation. The foundation of a moral vision for society is built on these tenets.

Right now, there are challenges before our political leaders that cry out for action and justice, guided by respect.

Namely, generating a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict and definitively addressing the complex issue of comprehensive immigration reform. Additionally, there are those in our own communities in need of employment, those who need assistance in basic areas of life—food, shelter, and clothing. Clearly, there is no shortage of human needs to meet.

While the mantle of responsibility and decision-making is most often placed on our elected leaders, we, as citizens of conscience, are also charged with the moral responsibility to advocate for justice, to act with compassion, and to pray without ceasing. We must speak, not just on our own behalf, but on behalf of those whose voices are silenced or ignored.

With regard to the Syrian conflict, many spoke out to encourage our leaders to choose a non-violent response to this crisis. In the Catholic Church, Pope Francis called the faithful to a day of prayer and fasting for the refugees in that civil war-torn nation and for a quick and peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. People of all faiths and beliefs, however, have been united in their concern for the loss of life that has already occurred and the need to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Another issue that needs our continuing advocacy, action, and prayers is the issue of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. The Senate recently passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. [1] Presently, it sits in the House of Representatives, awaiting a vote.

In July, I was among more than 100 leaders of Catholic institutions of higher education who signed a letter, with additional support from almost 60 faculty and theologians, urging the House of Representatives to stop delaying a vote on this important legislation. [2] In our letter, we noted that, as members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, we represent universities that educate more than 290,000 students. We emphasized the moral dimensions and responsibilities at the heart of this issue, noting:

“Our broken immigration system, which tears parents from children, traps aspiring Americans in the shadows, and undermines the best values of this nation, is morally indefensible…Catholic teaching values the human dignity and worth of all immigrants, regardless of legal status…no human being made in the image of God is illegal. Our immigration system is so deeply flawed, and in such urgent need of repair, that inaction is unacceptable.”

I realize that comprehensive immigration reform elicits strong opinions and emotions from both its advocates and its opponents; however, I ask you to simply consider the humanity at the heart of the issue. Just as our hearts ache for the pain, suffering, and loss of life experienced by the Syrian people, so, too, should our hearts be with those families affected and often torn apart by current immigration policy.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently wrote a piece in The Washington Post that addresses the humanitarian aspect of this complex issue. [3]

Calling it “a preeminent moral issue for the nation,” she noted the consequences that are seen each day as a result of deeply-flawed immigration policy. “Families are separated; migrants exploited by unscrupulous employers and smugglers; and human beings, desperate to survive, perish in the American desert. Moreover, as our nation benefits from the work of undocumented workers, we do not extend to them basic workplace or legal protections and at the same time scapegoat them for our social ills.”

It is clear that a long-term solution is needed. It is not as simple as building a bigger fence. Root causes of migration must be addressed; legal paths to citizenship must be expanded; and a humane path to citizenship for presently undocumented workers must be established. The preservation of families must be the cornerstone of any legislative action. We must advocate for just and compassionate policies that uphold the value of respect, as well as the values of hard work, opportunity, and compassion. [4, 5]

Right now, the IHM Sisters and their Associates are in the midst of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and advocacy for immigration reform. While they began on September 9, the day that Congress returned to session, it is never too late to join this prayerful action in solidarity with those who suffer because of unjust immigration policies. [6]

In addition, there will be a day of action and information on September 25 in the Rotunda and a prayer service that evening in our chapel at 9 p.m. As our Campus Ministry website reminds us: “Congress needs to hear from you! The House of Representatives will soon debate immigration reform. The time is now to tell them that people of faith support compassionate reform that reflects our faith and American values. Come to the Rotunda and send an electronic postcard on Wednesday, September 25th, or go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org and send your own.” If you are interested in social justice efforts for comprehensive immigration reform, please see our Campus Ministry staff and get involved.

Another way you can act locally in the Scranton community is to assist with the communities of refugees who have recently settled here. They come from Bhutan, Sudan, and other countries. Sister Angela Kim, IHM, and Dr. Stephen Burke have been partnering with Catholic Social Services and other agencies for the past three years to identify the needs of the community and provide language assistance to newly-arrived refugees. These are people who have experienced untold challenges and personal loss; they are restarting their lives from square one in a place they do not know, trying to learn a language they do not understand, and attempting to understand customs and services that are foreign to them.

Sister Angela shared with me that faculty and students have volunteered to do language translation and interpretation for the newly arriving refugees. She observed that language need not be a barrier to compassionate action. “My way of building relationships with ethnically diverse individuals in our community is not limited by language or cultural understanding,” she said. “I believe as long as we have respect and appreciation for diversity in ethnicity, language, culture, and religion, we can use our imagination and creativity to work for the common good. The human spirit will override any barriers or obstacles; this is my belief.”

Earlier, I also mentioned the ever-present needs of those who are out of work or who require the basic comforts of food, shelter, and clothing. While there are a number of social and charitable programs to address these needs, the requests far outnumber the available resources. When we volunteer to do our part to alleviate these challenges, we become living resources for our neighbors.

So many times we wonder what one person can really do. Yet, one person can do a great deal. Even if you do not share a common language, one person can give someone a ride to the grocery store or to a doctor’s appointment. One person can clean or set up a small apartment or show someone how to use kitchen appliances. One person can help feed families in need. One person can write a letter of advocacy to a legislator. One person can simply hold the hand of another, to calm anxiety and fears.

We take so much for granted, that we don’t even realize how much one person can do. Today, I urge you to commit to meaningful action, recognizing your own capacity and ability to demonstrate and promote the value of respect in all you do… because that one person is you. The only way we can truly bridge the scandalous gaps that exist between people is to become neighbors.

I hope that each of us will take some time today to reflect on our core value of respect and on these challenging words of Henri Nouwen:  “As long as there is distance between us and we cannot look in each other’s eyes, all sorts of false ideas and images arise. We give them names, make jokes about them, cover them with our prejudices, and avoid direct contact.  We think of them as enemies. We forget that they love as we love, care for their children as we care for ours, become sick and die as we do. We forget that they are our brothers and sisters and treat them as objects that can be destroyed at will. Only when we have the courage to cross the street and look in one another’s eyes can we see that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family.”

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Now, I call your attention to the final portion of our convocation, the Faculty Awards, which recognize and celebrate each recipient’s outstanding achievements and abiding commitment to academic excellence. I am pleased to introduce Dr. Frances M. Zauhar, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Mr. Collier Parker, Dean of the Insalaco College of Creative and Performing Arts, who will present the faculty awards for 2013.

Sources: 

[1] Full text, S.744.ES, “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” 6/27/2013, Passed Senate with an amendment.

www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s744es/pdf/BILLS-113s744es.pdf

[2] “Catholic College Presidents Call for Immigration Reform with a Path to Citizenship,” July 18, 2013. www.accunet.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3899

[3] “A plea for common sense and compassion in the immigration debate,” Mary Ann Walsh, The Washington Post, August 8, 2013. www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/08/08/finding-common-sense-and-compassion-in-the-immigration-debate/

[4] “Resist indifference: Immigration reform legislation needs our voices,” Backgrounder, Education for Justice. www.educationforjustice.org

[5] Resolutions to Action, Volume 22, Number 3, summer 2013, Leadership Conference of Women Religious Global Concerns Committee. https://lcwr.org/sites/default/files/publications/files/rta7-13.pdf

[6] IHM Justice Matters, September 2013, Volume 35, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, Pa. www.sistersofihm.org/what-we-do/ihm-justice-outreach-advocacy/